Chagas disease

Chagas disease is an inflammatory, infectious disease that is caused by a parasite found in the excrement of triatomine bed bugs.

This disease is widespread in South Africa, Central America and Mexico, its primary source is the aforementioned triatomine bed bugs. Less common cases of Chagas disease are reported in the southern United States.

Also called American trypanosomiasis, anyone can get the disease, but it is most often found in children. If left untreated, it can cause serious heart and digestive problems.

Treatment of American trypanosomiasis focuses on killing the parasites when the disease is in its acute phase and controlling the clinical manifestations in the more advanced stages. Measures can also be taken to prevent infection.

What are the symptoms?

Chagas disease can cause a sudden, acute syndrome or a long-term chronic condition. Clinical manifestations range from mild to severe, although many infected do not develop symptoms until the disease reaches a chronic phase.

Acute phase

In this stage of development of American trypanosomiasis, which can last for weeks or even months, there are rarely any symptoms.

When they do occur, they are usually mild and most often consist of:

• Swelling at the site of infection;
• Fever;
• Fatigue;
• Appearance of a rash;
• Painful sensations on the body;
• Swelling of the eyes;
• Headache;
• Loss of appetite;
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea;
• Swollen lymph nodes;
• Enlargement of the liver or spleen ;

Clinical manifestations that develop during the acute phase usually resolve on their own. If no treatment is started during this period, the infection persists and in some cases progresses to chronic.

Chronic Phase

Signs and symptoms of the chronic phase of Chagas disease can occur 10-20 years after the initial infection. In severe cases, however, the clinical manifestations of the disease may consist of:

• Cardiac arrhythmia;
• Congestive heart failure;
• Sudden cardiac arrest;
• Difficulty swallowing due to enlargement of the esophagus;
• Abdominal pain or constipation due to an increase in colon;

When to seek medical attention?

It is imperative that a person consults a physician if he or she has to stay for a longer period of time or travels to areas where American trypanosomiasis is endemic and has several of the above symptoms such as infection of a certain area of ​​the skin, increase in body temperature, body pain, rash and feelings of nausea.

What are the complications?

As already stated, if Chagas disease progresses to its chronic phase, the development of serious heart and digestive disorders is possible –

• Heart failure – develops when the heart muscle weakens to the point that it cannot pump enough blood to supply enough blood to all tissues and organs;

• Megaesophagus – this condition is caused by abnormal dilatation of the esophagus, which can lead to difficulty swallowing and digestion.

• Megacolon – the colon enlarges abnormally, leading to abdominal pain, bloating and severe constipation.

Treatment of Chagas disease

During the acute phase of the disease, the prescription of the following two medications may be beneficial in killing the unicellular parasite – benznidazole and nifurtimox. Both drugs are available in regions where American trypanosomiasis is endemic.

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